Drowning in red tape
More than a year after they were nearly killed in a boat crash, investigations are going nowhere. KIERAN BANKS reports
AS the sun set on an idyllic day of fishing off Charles Point, Dale Marshall and mate Jaron Early had no idea of the 45m barge bearing down upon them.
The pair were joined by Mr Marshall’s father-in-law Michael Mizen and brother-in-law Damien Pell, sitting on the back of the 8m fibreglass boat with their fishing lines in the water.
The clock ticked towards 6pm on a Dry season evening in May — peace and quiet of four blokes casting into the open ocean.
Suddenly, the tranquillity was shattered.
Mr Marshall stood up to find the barge, believed to be the MV Jane
Virgo owned by Shorebarge, just seconds away from ploughing through his boat.
The next two hours he and the three fishos would spend in darkness, clinging to Esky lids and bobbing in tiger shark-infested waters, were just the beginning of an 18-month nightmare, searching for answers.
RUNNING out of fuel 2km from shore only seemed like a minor hiccup to an otherwise perfect day on the water. One that could be easily fixed.
Mr Marshall’s mum was en route to bring out a refill to get the boys home.
Before his mum had entered the water, disaster struck.
With impact imminent, Mr Early grabbed Mr Mizen, aged 67, and jumped in the deep blue ocean.
Mr Marshall and his brother-inlaw tossed themselves into the sea.
“Myself and Damien only had time to grab on to something and it hit. We jumped out the back.
“I think I was swimming down, but I thought I was going to get eaten up by the prop. Then that didn’t happen and I came to the surface. I came to the surface and Damien came to the surface,” Mr Marshall says.
When the two parties resurfaced, they were 60m apart from each other with sunlight fading.
The boat’s bow, with its lights still beaming, was sticking out of the water.
“We swam over to the boat and grabbed an Esky lid and an Esky that was floating and we held on to the boat for a little while, and talked about whether it was a good idea or not to go down and get the EPIRB. Then the boat started sinking so we swam away from it. We started talking about having a swim, but Mike and Damien weren’t keen on that. They didn't think they were going to make it or that it was a good idea.”
The four men were bobbing in the water, screaming and whistling for anyone to come and rescue them.
“After a while of trying to keep this Esky upright, it was just draining our energy.
“Mike was on an Esky lid by himself and, without Jaron there, I think it would have been a lot different.
“He’s ripped the lid off the Esky — I don't know how he did it.
“It was a big Esky lid and after that point we had two on each Esky lid, and you could get your torso out of the water.
“... I was focused on getting back to land. Jaron was focused on surviving. He was keeping us all together and it would have been different without him out there.”
In the distance, the glowing navigation lights of Mr Marshall’s mother’s boat were the signs of salvation.
The quartet watched the lights travel up and down the coast, then out of sight.
It was by chance Mr Marshall’s mother and her partner stopped as another boat approached them.
The boat continued straight past them, but it was the moment of silence with the hum of the outboard motor dulled that lead to the couple hearing the stricken fishermen’s call for help.
Mr Early said the couple spotted a cushion floating in the water and headed towards the shouts.
He said their first concern was to get the older Mr Mizen out of the water.
“The first thing was to get the old fella. He’d gone into hyperthermia, so we got him in the boat. Put a silver blanket on him to keep him warm. I thought he was going to die on that floor.”
They all survived. But ordeal was far from over.
STILL reeling from the stress of spending two hours floating in choppy seas and 10 to 15 knot winds off Charles Point, the fishos hoped an investigation into the incident would give them some answers.
The initial investigation into the incident lead by the water police was taken over by the nation’s peak body for water safety, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The Maritime Safety Branch interviewed Mr Early and Mr Marshall following the crash, but in Mr Marshall’s mind, failed to take a proper statement.
The men were questioned over the boat’s lighting and if they had consumed alcohol.
An AMSA investigator was assigned to the case in November 2016 and the first official statement was taken a month later.
The last contact Mr Marshall had with AMSA officials was in September, when they flagged an update was due to be given to the survivors early this month.
Mr Marshall said they were still waiting for that update.
More than 18 months after the crash and AMSA are yet to complete the investigation.
A spokesman for AMSA denied the investigation had been delayed and said it was in “its final stages”.
“This is a complex investigation with a significant amount of evidence to be analysed. The investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further,” he said. “To determine the facts and circumstances that lead to the incident, AMSA has needed to seek, obtain and analyse a significant amount of evidence. AMSA is committed to ensuring that a conclusion is reached as soon as possible.”
Shorebarge managing director Arthur Hamilton declined a request for a sit-down interview with the
NT News and referred questions regarding to the incident to a PR firm.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr Hamilton said Shorebarge had cooperated with the AMSA investigation. He refused to comment on the
Dale Marshall and Jaron Early want answers from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority after the 18-month-long investigation into how a barge collided with their boat in Darwin Harbour
Shorebarge’s MV Jane Virgo landing barge